The Twins have indicated to opposing teams they’re not keen on trading players under team control beyond this season, reports Buster Olney of ESPN (Twitter link). That’s not to say Minnesota’s cutting off talks on longer-term assets entirely, but it casts increasing doubt about the likelihood of stars like Byron Buxton and José Berríos — both of whom are controllable next season via arbitration — changing uniforms within the next couple weeks.
That’s a defensible and generally unsurprising position for the Twins front office to take. While the 2021 season has been a disaster for Minnesota, there’s little reason to think the club needs to embark on any sort of rebuild. The Twins won the AL Central in each of the last two years, and much of the core of those teams is controllable for 2022. At 39-52, the Twins are almost certainly not playoff-bound this season, but there’s enough talent on the roster to reasonably expect a bounceback next year.
The Mets and Cardinals are among the teams to have reached out to gauge Berríos’ availability. Both clubs have come away from those talks feeling the asking price to be extremely high, a reflection of Minnesota’s comfort hanging onto Berríos with an eye towards 2022.
Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported this week that the Twins had also recently opened extension talks with Buxton. Rosenthal suggested a Buxton trade could be a possibility if the two sides don’t agree on a long-term contract, but the upcoming offseason might be a more opportune time to market him to other clubs. That’d give the front office more than a couple weeks to field offers on the Gold Glover, and there’s still no clear timetable for Buxton’s return from a late June hand fracture. (If the Twins were to make Buxton available before July 30, the Phillies would be among the teams with interest, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network).
Berríos and Buxton are far from the only prominent controllable players on the Twins roster. Third baseman Josh Donaldson still has a pair of guaranteed seasons beyond the year (and a 2024 club option) on his free agent deal. The Mets were loosely linked to Donaldson last month, but it doesn’t seem those talks gained much traction.
Minnesota has a trio of productive, controllable relievers (Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Caleb Thielbar) who would draw attention from contenders, even though both Rogers and Thielbar have struggled this month. Given the year-to-year volatility of bullpen arms, there’s a case to be made the Twins should look to trade one or more of that group, but the front office certainly doesn’t have to do so. There’s never been much expectation of a deal involving Kenta Maeda, Max Kepler or Jorge Polanco, each of whom is under control through at least 2023 on extremely affordable contracts.
Even if the Twins wind up trading only impending free agents, they should still be active over the next two weeks. Michael Pineda’s strike-throwing acumen will make him a target for contenders in need of starting pitching, even as his swinging strike rate has taken a step backwards this season. The market for Nelson Cruz will probably be limited to American League clubs, but he remains an impact bat to plug into the middle of a lineup. Andrelton Simmons isn’t hitting much, but he’s still one of the game’s best defensive shortstops. Hansel Robles is an affordable middle relief target, and someone could take a flyer on Alex Colomé as a change of scenery candidate.
Minnesota’s disinclination to trade controllable players doesn’t entirely foreclose the chance of such a deal coming together. It remains possible another club meets the lofty ask for Berríos, and the front office probably wouldn’t be so absolute as to make a player like Buxton completely untouchable. But their broad reluctance to move long-term foundational pieces of the roster reinforces that the organization sees 2021 more as an aberration than as a suggestion their window of contention with that group is closing.
The Twins have ample financial flexibility moving forward, with just $49.3MM in guaranteed contracts on the books for 2022, in the estimation of Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Minnesota looks likely to invest in the pitching staff this offseason and hope to get healthy, productive seasons from their still-strong position player group to contend next year in what might again be a relatively weak division.